Thoughts from a beginner living in China
I recently moved to China a month ago to volunteer at an institute and have never spoke Chinese before. Therefore I am using and testing this course for real life everyday use now. I honestly feel that it is VERY inefficient. The lessons always start drilling characters without teaching you the concept/meaning behind it until the very end. Therefore, for 80% or more of the lesson I am learning characters and pinyin without knowing what concept I should stick it to in my mind, I'm just learning "static".
I believe the course could be FAR more efficient if the lessons were 50/50 on character/pinyin drills, and meaning/concept drills. ESPECIALLY, if they were blended better. So far it feels like there is a separation in the lesson. First character drills, then concept drills, rarely alternating. After 10 lessons, the MOST concept drills I have seen in a single lesson was 5 out of 26 questions. I typically see 3 or less.
I've also just moved to China and I disagree.
First, I'd point out that this is a free course and Chinese is an extremely difficult language. I see you are on Chinese level 3... The idea that you'll be able to communicate in chinese after such few lessons is... well... laughable.
There are many courses similar to duolingo like chinese skill and hello chinese that have some of the features you mention.
For some reason I found duolingo to be so far the most effective in helping me understand the basic concepts of the language. Obviously you'll have to do your homework and go through duolingo with a notepad next to you in order to reinforce the concepts.
So I'm sorry that you couldn't master chinese after playing with a free app for 2 hours. You should definitely hire a local teacher. There is no better way to learn.
If Chinese is totally new to you then you may not realize that a character often has many meanings. The same is true for pinyin words. That's why recognizing the characters and tones is so important in Chinese. Take the pinyin "shi". Replace "hello" with "shi" at this website https://www.mdbg.net/chinese/dictionary?wdqb=hello to see how many characters are represented by that pinyin word. Perhaps that's part of the reason Duolingo chose this particular format for teaching Chinese. What a wonderful opportunity you have to learn the language well.
I agree, i started this course after having completed two level of a in class learning course here in china, The Duolingo course does kind of a bad job of telling you what words mean what, i would have been completely lost if i hadn't learnt a bit before hand. The spoken sentences are also ridiculously fast so that you may not catch the nuances of some of the sentences leading to incorrect answers.